Director: Stanley Kubrick
Studios: Peregrine Productions, Producers Circle
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall
Tagline: A Masterpiece of Modern Horror
MPAA Rating: R
Genre: horror, psychological thriller, ghosts, haunting, possession, family drama
Scare score: B+
While buckling down for the possible tornadoes last weekend, my cousin, her roommate, and I took advantage of the gloomy weather and overall creepy atmosphere to watch this gem. I accepted the opportunity graciously, as it is rare for me to find friends who will sit through a horror movie.
Plot overview: Recovering alcoholic Jack Torrance (Nicholson) moves his wife, Wendy (Duvall), and son, Danny (Danny Lloyd), to the remote Overlook Hotel after being hired as the caretaker of the building and grounds while they are closed during the winter season. We already know Danny has an “imaginary friend”/ psychic power that he does not fully understand; he believes the Overlook to house evil spirits. As complete isolation and cabin fever begin setting in, Jack begins to hallucinate, seeing ghosts around the hotel. He also begins to drink again, quickly turning into an unstable and violent alcoholic. After Danny is hurt by a ghost (Room 237=scary), Wendy thinks that Jack has become abusive and/or they are not alone in the massive hotel. This accusation causes Jack to finally crack, and he sets out to kill his family. Cue all the evil spirits in the hotel breaking lose, elevators full of blood, dining rooms full of corpses, and the ever-iconic “Heeeeeeere’s Johnny!” scene.
Fun facts: The term “shining” refers to the psychic ability that Danny posses to see into the future and communicate with other ‘shiners’ without speaking. He learns about it from the hotel’s head chef, who comes back to try and help the family after sensing Danny’s calls for help.
King chose 217 as the evil room because he and his wife were staying in room 217 at the hotel that helped him create the idea for The Shining. In the movie, this was changed to 237.
Adapted, of course, from the novel of the same name by the untouchable Stephen King, I think The Shining has become much more successful than anyone could have predicted at the time. I did some research on this classic a few months ago, and from what I understand, Kubrick was so meticulous in his filming that it even caused Shelley Duvall to become physically ill and lose some hair! Talk about scary. Still, there’s something to be said about all the fine details, which do add a great deal to this film which, in my opinion, moves rather slowly until all the events begin to culminate towards the end.
One of my favorite small details in the film, which I think really helps set in the nail-biting suspense, comes from all the scenes of Danny riding his trike around the hotel. The change from the silence of the wheels on carpet to the sudden lull of the wheels on the hardwood is pretty unnerving. Also, Danny’s little-voice-inside-his-mouth-friend, Tony, is really frightening, and causes us to examine the line between cute imaginary friends from childhood and more real, psychological problems – or in Danny’s case, a psychic power. For a young, new child actor, Lloyd does an awesome job. I almost forgot to mention how scary the changes between “chapters” at the beginning of the movie are. Up until cabin fever starts setting in, the movie moves relatively slowly, but each time they change from, say, “The Job Interview” to the next section, there is a terrifying crash of music. The suspense is really building up the whole movie.
I have always loved Shelley Duvall. While I don’t think she’s ugly, she certainly has very creepy aspects about her demeanor that add a lot to her character even before her husband goes crazy. She has a perfect face- wide eyes, spaced-out-teeth, pale skin, dark hair- when she has to act terrified. Her voice is also pretty creepy: innocent and almost annoying with a high pitch and slight southern/midwestern twang, and there is certainly something slightly off about it.
Jack Nicholson is brilliant in this role. He is so creepy looking, and the late 70’s attire, lower middle class in a Colorado winter look does a lot. I think one of the scariest scenes is when he is zoning out at his typewriter, with his chin down at his chest, his mouth hanging open, and his eyes fixed upward, out of his skull. His quick temper is rather frightening and all-too-human up until the point we understand that he seems to be possessed. He becomes, in his murderous state, a brute, masculine force, representing abuse and rage, that has to scare us as we watch him run around the hotel with an axe.
Final critique: Overall, this is a must-see horror movie. The psychological aspect should be what gets us the most. The ghosts are very scary and the makeup helps with that. The two twins are terrifying even before we see the image of them covered in blood with an axe in their head. The young/old woman evil spirit in Room 237 turns out to be so foul: just as Jack thinks he’s about to get some it’s revealed how she is actually a corpse with wet, rotting flesh *grossest scene in the film*. The Overlook is just as important a character as any Torrance family member. Her ugly, 70’s decor; long, seemingly endless corridors; restricting and claustrophobic bedroom scenes; twisting kitchen and boiler room; and even wide open main spaces- the general emptiness of it all, is certainly an aspect we take away with us after seeing the movie. Bound to give you nightmares, or you will otherwise find yourself thinking of the ghosts next time you’re in a ski lodge, hotel, or home alone. Definitely recommended for all horror movie watchers; those who scare easily should be able to handle this film if aptly warned before any scary scenes.
And, of course, who could forget that very last scene and all the questions it provokes?